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Little Free Libraries bring books into neighborhoods

Editor's Note: This corrects an earlier version of the story.

After Sandy Davis of Pawcatuck retired from teaching, she decided to combine her interest in literacy with a desire to give back to the community and installed two bright red newspaper boxes filled with books in her front yard.

Since she put up her Little Free Libraries, as they’re called, two years ago, she has had a lot of great conversations with the neighbors that stop by to pick up a book.

“I think it’s a really great way to build community,” she said. Her neighborhood has a lot of kids who regularly visit her library with their families.

Little Free Libraries started in Wisconsin in 2009 when Rotarian Todd Bol built a model of a one-room schoolhouse and filled it with books to honor his mother Esther, who had been a teacher and loved to read. He and others were inspired by “take a book, leave a book” collections in coffee shops, and by Wisconsin librarian Lutie Stearns, who traveled throughout the state in the early 1900s with trunks of books to lend to communities that didn’t have their own libraries.

The first official Little Free Library was set up in 2010, and now there are more than 36,000 registered libraries in 47 countries. As of October, Connecticut has 52 Little Free Libraries, according to the website.

The Montville Rotary Club installed two Little Free Libraries this past summer by the as a way to give back to the town. President-elect Mike Doherty said educational projects are a priority, and the libraries at Camp Oakdale and the Fair Oaks Community Center were an easy and meaningful way to provide access to books in the community.

Mark Fields installed his in front of his home in Ledyard in the summer of 2014 after his wife Jan saw the program online. She writes book reviews and estimated that she receives more than 100 books every month, but because many are advance release copies, she can’t give them to libraries or sell them. She had her husband, who makes cutting boards and other wooden products for his woodworking business, build a Little Free Library to give a home to at least some of the books she receives.

“Most of the Little Free Libraries are about the size of a mailbox, maybe a bit bigger, but because we had so many books, I built a large box,” Mark Fields said. “I was trying to make a Tardis because she likes Doctor Who, but that was a little more carpentry than I wanted to do to get that detail.”

The Fields’ bright blue Little Free Library is about the size of a kitchen cabinet and has three shelves for books, though they said they could easily stock a second library. Most of their traffic comes in the summer as kids in the neighborhood ride their bikes or jump out of a parent’s car to get a book. Mark said they also get visitors when he posts about it on the Ledyard Community Forum on Facebook.

The Little Free Library in Ledyard is closed for the season due to the threat of damage from snow and snowplows, and the Camp Oakdale library is also closed until spring sports resume, but Lena Lou’s Little Free Library in Groton is open year round. Lena Lou’s is named after Helena Coury, 7, who started her library at the end of the summer from books she no longer wanted.

“We went in other neighborhoods and I really liked the idea of, well, having one, and my uncle Doug made it for me, and there’s adult books, children’s books and teenager books,” she said.

“I think she also liked the feeling of the neighborhood aspect of it and sharing and exchanging with people that live nearby,” her mother, Caroline Thomas, said. She said Helena loved how “creatively adorable” each library was, since most are handmade like her own.

Like the Fieldses, Thomas said the library at her house got more visitors during the summer, but the collection also sees a lot of traffic from people taking walks in the evening.

“We have a lot of nighttime walkers in our neighborhood, and so I have battery lights that are in my free little library because some people that walk by my free little library at nighttime take books,” Helena said.

The Little Free Library motto of “take a book, leave a book” keeps the libraries stocked, and library stewards often enjoy seeing what kinds of books appear. Helena said her library receives a lot of chapter books, and Jan said she once found a complete set of the Harry Potter books, which quickly found a home with one of the town trash collectors.

Davis, steward of one of three libraries in Pawcatuck, has one box dedicated to children’s and young adult books and another for adult books, and she put a diary in her library so the kids can record what they take out or leave little notes for each other.

Doherty, the Montville Rotarian, said the only complaint the Rotary Club has gotten was regarding a lack of chapter books for older kids to read. The organization has plans to rotate the books every month to keep the selection fresh, he said.

A full map of Little Free Libraries and more information can be found on the organization's website.

Twitter: @ahutch411

Little Free Libraries in New London County

  • 72 Cottage Street, Groton

  • 9 Arrowhead Drive, Ledyard

  • Camp Oakdale, Montville

  • Fair Oaks Community Center, Montville

  • 90 Bindloss Road, Mystic

  • Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center, Mystic

  • 36 S Lee Road, Niantic

  • 41 Hartford Avenue, Old Lyme

  • 16 Cronin Avenue, Pawcatuck

  • 50 Courtland Street, Pawcatuck

  • 19 Lee Drive, Pawcatuck



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